Politics: Reading the Tea Leaves of Colorado Politics

Floyd Ciruli has been polling in Colorado for nearly three decades. We asked him for his opinions on the state's biggest topics.
May 30 2012, 8:30 AM

Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli is mindful of the state's hot topics—and perhaps none is hotter than the presidential race. Ciruli—whose company, Ciruli Associates—has been polling and consulting for nearly three decades, talked to 5280 this week about a variety of Colorado-based political issues. (Some of the Ciruli's comments have been condensed and edited for brevity.)

5280: There's been a lot of attention paid to Colorado when it comes to November's presidential election. It's not going to let up, is it? 

Ciruli: Obama probably has a slight advantage because of incumbency and an early ground-game, but this is shaping up to be very competitive. Romney was in Craig [on Tuesday] and he was in Fort Lupton earlier. He's using the state for his thematics, mainly that Obama has failed the economy in gas and natural resources and that there's too much regulation on things like coal. On the other end, Obama is doing targeted speeches. He talked to students in Boulder and to Hispanics on the west side of Denver.

Along with that, we have the full measure of advertising already up. The Super PACs are stepping up, and you have other advertising. Turn on the television and you'll see two or three ads every night. That's unprecedented. The heavy rotation [in Colorado] generally doesn't start until Labor Day, and we're already in it.

Toss-up states get a lot of attention, and that's good for Colorado. Citizens are going to get more information about the candidates, and the politicians have to learn more about the state. I think Colorado's nine electoral votes clearly are on the minds of both candidates, and that's why we see them both campaigning here.

Rep. Mike Coffman recently "misspoke" about whether Barack Obama was really born in the United States. Because of redistricting, he now finds himself in a very competitive district. Will the episode hurt him?

Who knows? I don't think it's of no consequence. It helped Democrats in the short-term, and there was a buzz in Washington about it. But will it have a long-term impact? I don't think it will be a faux pas that will be followed endlessly by the media. I don't see it continuing like what we're seeing in Massachusetts with the Senate race there.

Of course, Democrats are clearly going to use Coffman's words to say he's extreme. But it seems like Coffman still has all the advantages: He has a significant amount of money and he has name identification. That's a big deal.

Governor Hickenlooper called a special legislative session to deal with civil unions. The issue went nowhere, and Republicans quickly responded. Are there repercussions for the Democrats this fall?

I think there are some vulnerabilities on both sides. But will it be one of those issues that citizens remember when they're voting for their legislator in November?

Short-term, the Democrats definitely were able to make the case that what happened wasn't fair—and to their own constituency that this was a civil-rights issue. But once the speaker [Republican Frank McNulty] recovered, he was able to make a case: Essentially, that Democrats were focused on their pet project and ignored a majority of Colorado [by not focusing on economic issues].

So what would the overall impact be? Republicans only have a one-seat majority in the Colorado House. On one hand, they pleased their base over this; but the Democrats did the same. One net benefit for the Democrats is that a lot of people who might not have previously contributed to Democratic legislative candidates have started to show up.

What would surprise you this year?

The public, in general, believes Obama is going to win in the end. He's the incumbent; polls say he's ahead.

The surprise would be if Romney wins here. Colorado has been a Democratic state since 2004. In 2010, you had Michael Bennet winning a Senate race; you had John Hickenlooper win the governor race. Republicans are in a position where they will have to prove themselves. They have to build a ground-game here, get a vision, and run advertisements. They have to take a broad view of Colorado.

In terms of closeness [of the race], we'll be in a very interesting place. Colorado has never been the type of battleground state that it has been this year. We're in a very unique position.

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